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26 October 1536 – Henry VIII makes a promise that he won’t keep

Posted By on October 26, 2018

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

On this day in history, 26th October 1536, the rebels of the Pilgrimage of Grace halted at Scawsby Leys near Doncaster, where they met troops captained by Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. The rebels were said to number around 30,000 and Norfolk’s army was only a fifth of the size, but the rebel leader, lawyer Robert Aske, chose to negotiate.

A deal was eventually struck. Norfolk and others were able to report to the king on 28th October that “The lords and gentlemen who went from us yesterday to the commons at Pomfret have returned. They have declared your pardon and despatched them all to their houses.” Chronicler Edward Hall recorded:

“Then, by the great wisdom and policy of the said captains, a communication was had, and a pardon of the kings Majesty obtained, for all the Captains and chief doers of this insurrection, and they promised that such things as they found themselves agreed with all they should gently be heard, and their reasonable petitions granted and that their articles should be presented to the kings Majesty, that by his highness authority, and wisdom of his Council, all things should be brought to good order and conclusion: and with this order every man quietly departed, and those which before were bent as hot as fire to fight, being letted thereof by God, went now peaceably to their houses, and were as cold as water.”

Charles Wriothesley wrote of how the rebels had planned to fight the king’s forces on the eve of the feast of St Simon and St Jude, 27th October, but “their fell such rain the night before they should have foughten, that they were so wet and their artillery that they could not draw their bows nor shoot”, so, instead “at the request of the Duke of Norfolk, they desired him to sue to the king for their pardon […]”.

Norfolk gave promises from Henry VIII that the rebels’ demands would be met and that they would be pardoned. Robert Aske then dismissed his troops. In early December 1536, a proclamation was made to the rebels offering them a pardon and it was also said that a parliament would be held at York. Unfortunately, Henry VIII later broke his promises to the rebels.

You can see my timeline of the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion here.

Notes and Sources

  • Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume XI, 902.
  • Hall, Edward (1809) Hall’s chronicle: containing the history of England, during the reign of Henry the Fourth, and the succeeding monarchs, to the end of the reign of Henry the Eighth, in which are particularly described the manners and customs of those periods., J. Johnson, p. 823.
  • Wriothesley, Charles (1875) A chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors, from A. D. 1485-1559, Camden Society, p. 57-58.

1 thought on “26 October 1536 – Henry VIII makes a promise that he won’t keep”

  1. Banditqueen says:

    Norfolk of course had little choice but to negotiate and get people to disperse because he was outnumbered. Henry had been taken by surprise with these uprisings and he just didn’t have the numbers. Norfolk was authorised to negotiate with the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace and to offer a pardon. This stopped the Northern hord of 30,000 to 50,000 from marching south to London, armed and dangerous. Henry made a series of promises during these coming weeks including pardons, a Parliamentary commission to look at those monasteries not yet closed and the succession of Princess Mary in the North, to consider the disposition of certain accused counsellors, to restore the religious traditions and to crown Queen Jane in York. Most he didn’t intend for Henry to keep but he did issue a pardon and most people were pardoned. However, Henry only had to wait, and he did wait for his excuse not to keep his promise of a pardon. A second uprising which attacked Penrith Castle and which spread into Lancashire was quickly suppressed but it was Henry’s signal. He ordered the arrest of several leaders, including Robert Aske and Lord Darcy and John Constable. They were all executed. A series of trials followed all over the North and Midlands and a series of executions followed.

    79 people were executed in one small area, from each village, because they refused to take an oath to deny the Pope and the Pilgrimage.

    226 men and women were executed in total in the Pilgrimage of Grace. Several were monks, most were taken in arms and their leaders are included in this figure.

    169 were executed in Lincolnshire, the other place were there was an uprising.

    700 people attacked Penrith Castle but only a few were killed or injured, although others were among those later executed. At least 500 others were pardoned.

    Given that over 40,000 people were active in these rebellions, the numbers executed would have been considered a small number as Henry sent an army North in the New Year to suppress and punish and other monarchs might have engaged them in the field, resulting in thousands of deaths. It was a terrible breach of promise, but Henry probably saw himself as showing restraint and mercy and was justified by the second uprising. Henry saw himself as God’s representative and to him this was a treacherous affront to his supremacy and his authority and a dangerous threat to his reign. A Tudor King or Queen could not tolerate any threat to their authority and rebellions were put down with as much force and ruthlessness as possible. Their age is alien to ours, but even now, wouldn’t even a modern King put down an armed rebellion with troops and harsh punishments? In Britain, it was still high treason in the nineteenth century to even cause a riot or if a protest became violent, punishable with hanging, drawing and quartering. By then it was normally commuted to hanging, imprisonment or deportation, but it confirms just how twitchy about threats to law and order and authority Government was 400 years even after Henry’s death.

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